Are we family? A scoping review of how military families are defined in mental health and substance use research

Rachael Gribble, Alyson L. Mahar, Mary Keeling, Kate Sullivan, Sandra Mckeown, Susan Burchill, Nicola T. Fear, Carl A. Castro

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: While some families may experience poor mental health, substance use, and poor school performance due to service life, the usefulness and applicability of these research findings may be affected by how representative study participants are of the broader population. This article aims to examine how research on mental health and substance use defines a “military family” to understand if the current body of evidence reflects the increasing diversity of this population.

Methods: A systematic search of academic articles was conducted in Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Ovid PsycINFO, Ebsco CINAHL and ProQuest PILOTS using database-specific subject headings and keyword searches for ‘military’, ‘family’, ‘mental health’ and ‘substance use’. Sociodemographic and military characteristics of study participants were extracted to identify who was and was not included. Results: The most commonly represented family structure was the traditional, heteronormative family comprised of a male service member married to a female civilian with whom they have children. Military couples without children, dual-serving couples, families of LGBTQ personnel, unmarried and new relationships, single parents, male spouses/partners, Veterans not seeking Veterans Affairs (VA) services, and families with additional challenges were regularly not reflected in the research due to implicit or explicit exclusion from studies.

Discussion: Research on mental health and substance use among the family members of service personnel continues to reflect the traditional, heteronormative family. Future studies should consider more inclusive definitions of family and creative approaches to recruitment to ensure research in this area reflects the experiences, needs, and strengths of an increasingly diverse military community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-119
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Military, Veteran and Family Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Children of service members
  • Mental health
  • Military families
  • Military partner
  • Military spouse
  • Military-connected children
  • Substance use


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